Learning on your doorstep

Councillors have a vital advocacy role in making their local adult and community education services the best they can be.

Council-run or commissioned adult and community education (ACE) plays a vital role in supporting residents on their journey to learn skills to enter, return to or progress in work. Alongside the economic benefits, it reduces loneliness and makes people happier, healthier, more confident, capable and resilient – making places smarter and more inclusive.

Put simply, ACE transforms people’s lives. 

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to grip our communities, it is a more important lifeline than ever before. It is the cornerstone of adult learning. 

Without it, many of the 600,000 adults – including some of our hardest to reach, vulnerable or isolated residents – that access it every year would not progress into further learning and work, or be able to cope with what life throws at them. 

Delivering a range of informal and formal learning, from entry-level courses to professional qualifications – as well as interview support and confidence-boosting programmes in a range of community settings – ACE gives residents a first, second, third or even fourth chance to access learning. 

It works with the grain of other place-based services, including employment, regeneration, education, health, and culture, and adds value to each, as well as connecting with agencies such as Jobcentre Plus and local colleges.  

“Adult and community education gives residents a first, second, third or even fourth chance to access learning”

The LGA has put together a handbook for councillors, which includes a selection of case studies demonstrating the excellent work of local ACE services – but there are hundreds more great examples out there. We know that,because 92 per cent of ACE providers are rated good or outstanding, the best performing in the further education sector. We should be extremely proud of that.

But there are challenges and opportunities ahead for ACE services.

Over the past decade, as national funding for adult learning halved, councils innovated to source new funding, or faced a reduction in provision or a wind down of the service altogether. 

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, national investment in retraining was boosted to enable people to adapt to a rapidly changing economy that is more likely to displace the least qualified. 

Today, as unemployment soars, we need all hands to the pump to direct that skills investment to where it is most needed – and that must include local ACE services.

Soon, two White Papers – one on further education and the other on devolution – should provide an opportunity to develop a more coherent, place-based approach to adult skills that connects the entire provider base across a local area. 

The LGA’s Work Local model provides a framework for how that could happen (see www.local.gov.uk/work-local).

So, it is a significant time for the future of ACE. That’s why our handbook is so timely and a must-have for all councillors. 

You have a critical leadership role to play in getting to know your service, so why not arrange a walk through your ACE service to see it in action? It is on all of us to support, promote, scrutinise and advocate for ACE, so we can make this service the best it can be. 

The LGA’s handbook provides some top tips on how you can do that, which we hope you will find useful. 

‘Learning for life: the role of adult community education in developing thriving local communities – a handbook for councillors’ is free to download at www.local.gov.uk/publications

This article was jointly written by Councillor Sir Richard Leese CBE and Councillor Kevin Bentley.

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